In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson launched an “unconditional war on poverty,” its goal being the complete elimination of poverty in America by 1976. Due however to the Viet Nam War and then the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, the War on Poverty was put on the back burner and then abandoned.
There were aspects of the War on Poverty that did make a difference in the lives of millions, just as there are anti-poverty measures that can contribute powerfully to the fight today. The difference, however, is that now, more than in the 1960’s, a callous indifference to the plight of the poor and near-poor has been normalized. In the 1960’s a War on Poverty was seen as reasonable and good. Today is a far more cynical era, a time in which suggesting such a thing is likely to be seen as too unsophisticated for serious political consideration.
Which is, in part, why I’m doing it.
What are considered “serious political considerations” today constitute the thinking that got us into the ditch we’re in; it is not the thinking that will get us out of it. Our society, and most importantly our government, is dominated by a soulless economic mindset that has no problem with the suffering of millions being the natural consequence of profit accrued only to a few.
An article I read recently gives a sobering overview of poverty in America today. Written by sociologist Matthew Desmond and published as a guest essay in the New York Times, the article makes clear that poverty persists in America today because it’s baked into the cake.
In Desmond’s words, “We enjoy cheap goods and services and plump returns on our investments, even as they often require a kind of human sacrifice in the form of worker maltreatment. We defend lavish tax breaks that accrue to wealthy Americans, starving antipoverty initiatives. And we build and defend exclusive communities, shutting out the poor and forcing them to live in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage.”
My goal in running for president is to help turn that around, to bring back into the public imagination the idea of a society that works for everyone.
In the richest country in the world, this should not be considered a utopian dream. If anything, it’s America’s mission statement as articulated in the Declaration of Independence. Governments are instituted, according to that sacred document, to secure our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those living with chronic economic anxiety have no such rights. And in the words of Franklin Roosevelt, “a necessitous man is not a free man.”
During the Covid pandemic our government passed the Child Tax Credit, which quickly cut America’s child poverty rate in half. When it expired six months later, however, our government failed to permanentize it. Simply collecting all unpaid taxes from America’s top one percent would raise $175 Billion, enough to lift everyone out of poverty altogether. IRS resources with which to do that had been granted by Congress during the first two years of the current administration. But the current House membership withdrew those resources in order to protect rich tax cheaters who just happen to be their donors. Raising the minimum wage, which we haven’t done in 13 years, would help mightily as well. From housing to labor policies, there are additional efforts that would provide both short term and long solutions to a problem that puts America in a class all our own.
Meanwhile, our child poverty rates are roughly double that of other advanced democracies. Some find that an unfortunate but acceptable reality. To me, and hopefully to you as well, it is not.
In this as in so many areas, the problem is not that true solutions don’t exist; the problem is an institutional resistance to our providing those solutions. Even more, the problem is the demoralized state of too many Americans – particularly those who struggle themselves – who have acquiesced to the belief that nothing can be done.
I am running for president to highlight such problems, and most importantly to effectuate the changes that will solve them. I’m hoping to inspire people on both left and right who know that America is better than this, and that we can reclaim our vision of a free and just society. We know – or at least by now we should know – that leaving it to the political system as it now exists to fundamentally ameliorate the suffering of America’s poor and near poor is a job we cannot count on them to do.
It’s time now for we the people to make the difference.
And with your help, I will.